Magic? A teacher’s first term with Touchstone Blended Learning

Teacher Dina Dobrou

“We’re going to run a Blended Learning course using Touchstone from Cambridge”, my school director announced.

These two words instantly ‘clicked’:

Blended Learning:

A mixing of different learning environments. It combines traditional face-to-face classroom methods with more computer-mediated activities.(Wikipedia)

Touchstone:

1. A test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing.

2. A fundamental or quintessential part or feature. (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary)

This should be interesting…was my first thought, as teaching with technology has been the apple of my eye for the past two years.

Darn! I have this class with a couple of older students (60 something)…it’s going to be a mess with technology…Why me?…was my second thought…(Yes, the fear of technology going wrong or stakeholders not being able to handle it, is an issue apparent even among the techiest of our profession).

For a start, I think I was being a bit biased about my older students as they very pleasantly surprised me as you will see later on. Secondly, it being Blended Learning I knew I had to focus on both the technological aspects and the face to face ones. I soon discovered that they work separately as well as hand in hand, perfectly well.

On Technology:

Upon completing the online course for teachers I was more confident about converting even my most non-techy student into a confident, independent user of the interface offered by Touchstone. Initially, some tech training in class was involved and follow-up on the students’ ability to work independently from home.

It was a long process at first and to this day I can’t say that we’ve used all Touchstone features such as the Wiki, Blog, Voice Tools, Chat, Forum, though we did go through them one by one, taking time to make sure they know how to navigate the Online Course, which was of paramount importance as whenever someone missed a class they knew they could keep up with the rest of us by catching up online (so dropout numbers…dropped).

Overall, I can now proudly say that, because of this course, my most non-techy student set up an email account, got a laptop, discovered the world of online dictionaries, Wikipedia, YouTube and TED talks and became a very independent learner whose skills have developed considerably.

On face-to-face:

As a new teacher (some 16 years ago) I had to rely a lot on Teachers’ books for teaching guidance and lesson plans. If you have been around for as long as I have you will have learnt the hard way that Teacher’s books are not always what they’re cracked up to be. More often than not, instead of a book that guides teachers (especially inexperienced ones) and provides lesson plans for the content in the Student’s book,  they’re a mere “key-to-the-SB-activities-with-the-occasional-photocopiable-material” (correct me if I’m wrong on this).

What I’ve discovered in Touchstone was that I can completely rely on the Teacher’s book to get a clear, thorough and concise step-by-step journey into language exploration with my students and a wealth of ideas and opportunities for stimulating discussion. It is not, however, a “teacher-breathes-in-teacher-breathes-out” approach to lesson planning and allows for adaptation to fit your students’ needs.

So, if you’re starting out with Touchstone, here are a few tips I found useful:

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Embrace the Teacher’s book lesson plan and let it guide you. If anything, it might change some of your established routines and your classroom dynamics (the inductive approach to teaching is apparent throughout) and urge you to ‘step out of your comfort zone’ and teach differently.
  • Take time in class to provide some tech training. It is not a waste of time. It will be a lifesaver eventually.
  • First things first…or…the easiest things first. Start training your students with what you (and especially your students) find easier to handle. One thing at a time, plus follow-up worked best for me:
  • Online Course/ Online Workbook etc.
  • Voice Tools
  • Forum
  • Wiki
  • (…you define the order…)

I will finish with my favourite motto and a picture to illustrate this:

                                                Step out of your comfort zone!